Spending Time With Kids Sentenced As Adults

By Karen Grau
July 7, 2011 5:35 PM

In the next few weeks officials in Indiana will decide whether or not an 11-year old boy will stand trial as an adult for shooting and killing his 6-year old brother.  Yes, I said 11 … and yes, I said “adult.”
For the past eight months I’ve been filming young kids who are already serving hard time in adult prisons; and over the past 13 years I’ve gotten to know dozens more who live their lives immersed in chaos, spring-boarding from juvenile detention centers to juvenile courtrooms that sadly become second homes.

But as I watch and listen to the current debate regarding the future of our latest 11-year-old headline, there are only three words that come to my mind:  

Posted on July 7, 2011 .

A Safety Net for Kids

By Zach Schalk
May 25, 2011 11:59 AM

Maintaining a safety net for the elderly is often a topic at the forefront of our national political discussion.  Any proposal that touches Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid (a program which uses much of its funds on the elderly while covering the young as well) arouses national outcry at the thought of possibly making these entitlement programs less generous.  But what about a safety net for our nation’s kids?  The young may not have an opportunity to vote, but they surely deserve the right to pursue a secure future as much as the elderly who benefit from these costly entitlement programs. 

Posted on May 25, 2011 and filed under The Issues.

What the Great Recession Means to Kids

By Zach Schalk
March 21, 2011 4:41 PM

There has been a great deal of reporting done on how the Great Recession has affected the working class in our country.  The visible problem of high unemployment—and the general stubbornness of the jobs market—has drawn most of the attention of the press and politicians.  One of the great underreported stories of the past few years, however, has been the economic downturn’s affect on our country’s youth. 

Posted on March 21, 2011 and filed under The Issues.

Former Judge Brought to Justice

By Zach Schalk
February 25, 2011 1:09 PM

The juvenile justice world garnered front-page headlines last week.  In a story that underscores just about everything that is wrong with our juvenile corrections system, former Pennsylvania judge Mark A. Ciavarela Jr. was convicted for his role in a $2.8 million dollar “cash for kids” scandal.  He faces over 150 years in prison after a jury found Ciavarela guilty on 12 counts, including charges that he accepted money from a developer who built two private detention centers for kids in Pennsylvania—though he was not found guilty of accepting bribes to specifically deliver juveniles to the facilities.  Michael T. Conahan, another former judge, already faces 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to racketeering charges in 2009 for his role in the affair.

Posted on February 25, 2011 and filed under In The News.

What the President's Budget Does for Juvenile Justice

By Zach Schalk
February 18, 2011 12:10 PM


This past Monday, President Obama released his proposed budget for the 2012 fiscal year, which begins October 1.  While the budget still has several months of Congressional debate ahead before becoming law—and keep in mind that no budget for 2011 has been adopted yet; the government is currently operating on a “continuing resolution” keeping government funding at 2010 levels until March 4—it introduces many interesting proposals that would affect our nation’s juvenile justice system.

Posted on February 18, 2011 and filed under In The News.

Where Spending is the Answer

By Zach Schalk
February 3, 2011 1:10 PM

Budget cuts have become a theme of sorts on this blog, with states nationwide looking towards their various corrections systems as fertile ground for slashing wasteful spending.  As Youth Today reports, the number of states with stand-alone juvenile justice agencies is shrinking—with states combining government offices and accounting for a decrease in locked up juvenile offenders since the 1990’s.  Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York is facing a tough political fight in his effort to reform the state’s sprawling corrections system, and it remains to be seen what his final plan for the future of New York lock ups will look like.  On the West Coast, Gov. Jerry Brown continues to pursue his plans to cede control of juvenile centers from the state to the county, as mentioned in our last blog post, despite some controversy over the matter. 


Posted on February 3, 2011 and filed under In The News.

State Budget Crises Should Lead to Reform

By Zach Schalk
January 14, 2011 11:59 AM


With many states facing budget crises in the coming years, the cries for spending cuts and program reform are louder than ever.   In most cases, budget cuts equate to lost services, making them popular in rhetoric and unpopular in practice.  However, one exception that has gained notice by politicians and the public alike has been the corrections sector—in particular juvenile corrections.

Posted on January 14, 2011 and filed under The Issues.

Study Reveals Bias Against LGBT Youth in Schools and Courts

By Zach Schalk
December 8, 2010 11:22 AM

As anyone can tell you, kids can be cruel.  Bullying, teasing and just flat out mean behavior is a fact of life experienced by many children as they grow up.  With the advent of the internet, cyber bullying has added a new frontier to this problem, making it even harder for the picked on to escape the reach of their bullies.  Far too often, it’s young members of the LBGT community who bear the brunt of this nasty treatment.

Posted on December 8, 2010 and filed under In The News.

Community Organizations Help Fill the Void

By Zach Schalk
November 3, 2010 3:02 PM

Two years into the Obama administration has produced few if any successes for the interests of juvenile justice.  As discussed previously on this blog the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) remains overdue for reauthorization, the Federal government is cutting programs for juvenile justice in the President’s proposed budget and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention still lacks a chief administrator.  States facing profound budget woes of their own have also made cuts to the juvenile justice system—though in many cases closing unused state wide facilities in favor of community based alternatives have been a positive step both monetarily and policy wise.

Posted on November 3, 2010 and filed under Ruminations.

Reporting Juvenile Justice Success Stories

By Zach Schalk
October 21, 2010 10:01 AM

All too often the juvenile justice coverage picked up by the media is bad news.  The New York Times ran an editorial criticizing New York’s juvenile corrections system as “wasteful and ineffective.”  While the article includes praise for positive initiatives that are being run in the state, it focuses mainly on the system’s sky-high recidivism rate along with its bloated staff and budget.  On the West Coast, the LA Times featured an Op-ed decrying the decaying state of the Los Angeles County Probation Department through the eyes of a former juvie inmate.  This in a state that spends more on its prisons than it does on education!

Posted on October 21, 2010 .

Second Chance Act Money Put to Good Use

By Zach Schalk
October 14, 2010 9:41 AM

The Second Chance Act was signed into law in 2008 and it is being put to good use.  The legislation was intended to make federal grants available to government agencies and non profits that would improve the chances for individuals to return successfully to their communities after incarceration.  According to the Reentry Policy Council, $25 million in grants were given out in 2009 and an impressive $100 million in Second Chance Act grants has been doled out in 2010—with an additional $14 million given to the Federal Bureau of Prisons for reentry programs.

Posted on October 14, 2010 and filed under In The News.

Juvenile Sex Offenders Registered for Life?

By Zach Schalk
September 28, 2010 11:11 PM EDT

Sex offender registration may be popular amongst politicians; it may seem like it makes people safe.  But to many experts registration only creates a false sense of safety and it will not prevent many future abuses from occurring.  Despite this fact, all 50 states and Indian reservations in the US will be required to establish a sex offender registry system by 2011—one that includes juvenile offenders who may be marked for life.

Posted on September 28, 2010 and filed under The Issues.

Give Kids Reentering Community a Chance

By Zach Schalk
September 16, 2010 2:42 PM EDT

When a kid is sent to a juvenile corrections facility, he is likely to already have fallen behind in both school work and social development.  While spending time away from home in a corrections facility may be good for some kids, it can also serve to further alienate many juveniles and cause them to fall even more behind.  This is why education programs in the facilities themselves are so important and why good reentry services and programs are necessary to make sure that kids are able to succeed when they return home.

Posted on September 16, 2010 and filed under The Issues.

PREA Standards Must be Implemented

By Zach Schalk
September 3, 2010 3:45 PM EDT

In 2003 congress acted unanimously to fight one of our prison system’s worst defects: the prevalence of rape behind bars.  The Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), in classic Washington fashion, commissioned a study and created the National Prison Rape Elimination Commission (NPREC) to recommend new national standards meant to protect inmates from sexual assault. 

The statistics are proof enough that change is necessary.  A new report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) found that approximately 88,500 adult inmates were sexually assaulted in 2009—a number that is almost certainly underreported. 

Posted on September 2, 2010 and filed under The Issues.

Suicides in State Lock-ups are Cause for Concern

By Zach Schalk
July 26, 2010 11:21 A.M EDT

The Boston Globe recently reported that an increased rate of suicides this year in Massachusetts state prisons is leading to a rush to fix its adult prison system:

With the discovery of an eighth inmate found hanging in his cell at Old Colony Correctional Center in Bridgewater yesterday morning, Massachusetts prisons have reached a suicide rate of about 71 per 100,000 inmates so far this year, more than quadruple the average annual national rate of 16 per 100,000 inmates reported by the US Bureau for Justice Statistics.

The same problem is brewing in some of our nation’s juvenile detention centers.

Posted on July 26, 2010 and filed under In The News.

Mentally Ill Teens in Lockup

By Karen Grau
July 20, 2010 9:05 P.M. EDT 

Jacob was 4 when his father left him out in the snow for no apparent reason other than he felt his boy needed to be punished. Following his father’s arrest for child abuse, Jacob was left in the care of his mother. A few years later, that same mom was incarcerated for stabbing her second husband in the back. The ensuing 15 years for little Jacob became a sad and wrenching ordeal of placement facilities and foster homes, where eventually, he was accused of attacking a foster sibling. That landed Jacob in juvenile prison…a place he called home for the next five years. Read more and watch a video about Jacob "below the fold"...

Posted on July 20, 2010 .

LGBT Youth

By Zach Schalk
July 16, 2010 3:10 P.M. EDT

It is not a novel concept that minority groups are disproportionately represented in juvenile centers across the country.  However, one group that is often overlooked when discussing demographics of locked up at-risk youth is the LGBT community.  A recent article in The Nation by Daniel Redman shed light on their uphill fight for fair treatment.  While LGBT young people face many obstacles once they enter the juvenile corrections system, most of the problems start much earlier:

An LGBT youth's problems with the law frequently begin at home.  “LGBT youth are more likely to be arrested than straight youth because they're more likely to be pushed out of their homes," says Dr. Beyer. And "family rejection is a direct pipeline to the juvenile justice system," says San Francisco State University researcher Caitlin Ryan of the Family Acceptance Project.

Posted on July 16, 2010 and filed under In The News.

Treating Kids Like Kids

By Zach Schalk

July 13, 2010 10:55 A.M. EDT

It seems that our nation’s highest court is finally catching up with neuroscience, at least when it comes to acknowledging the differences between juveniles and adults.  The Supreme Court’s ruling in Graham v. Florida, which banned the sentencing of juveniles to life without parole in non-homicide cases, is just the most recent step in the struggle to get our legal system up to speed with the latest scientific research.  As Mark Hansen reports for ABA Journal:

The majority based its decision in part on the scientific research into adolescent brain development first cited by the court five years ago in Roper v. Simmons, when it struck down the death penalty for juvenile offenders on the same grounds.

Posted on July 13, 2010 and filed under The Issues.

Re-authorization of JJDPA

By Zach Schalk
July 12, 2010 5:10 P.M. EDT

As congress slogs its way through the current session, the usual issues are grabbing the attention of our legislators and the headlines.  All the while, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act (JJDPA) has languished without reauthorization for the third year.  As David Chura points out, there is no excuse for this example of congressional inaction:

JJDPA is a good bill and there are lots of good people behind it. It has over 16 congressional sponsors and is endorsed by 9 international groups including Human Rights Watch; more than 90 national groups; 259 state and local organizations; and the Department of Justice.

That's the news I'd like to share with the nation's locked-up kids: indeed, people are "in your business," and because of those people, you're not alone. It might be a tough sell, though. When you're 15, sitting in a cramped, dirty, smelly cell, cut off from anyone and anything that has any meaning to you, you get mighty skeptical and feel abandoned. I just hope the 111th Congress doesn't let these kids down. It's happened far too many times in their lives already.

It’s true that congress faces a plethora of challenges that need to be addressed.  But with JJDPA non-compliance on the rise, reauthorization is an easy way for congress to show the leadership needed in difficult times.  The children being affected may not be old enough to vote, but they deserve the protection of the law nonetheless.  

Posted on July 12, 2010 and filed under The Issues.